Joon Pahk’s New York Times crossword
You know what this is? This is the sort of crossword that a seven-time Jeopardy! champion would make. It’s smart and accomplished and provides entertaining moments, and it does all this without any sponsorship from Aleve or lengthy commercial breaks. You can’t beat that.
Tons of crunchy fill. Crunchy like the crunchy style of CHEETOS, not the puffed variety. (Crunchy is better.) KNICK-KNACK meets KVETCH at the first K. There’s a VAMPIRE BAT that really sucks, and if it FEEDS ON you, it could turn you into DEAD MEAT. TSK, TSK, that would be a real shame. In the opposite corner from KNICK-KNACK, there’s its consonantal twin, KNOCK KNOCK (unexpected clue: [1940 cartoon in which Woody Woodpecker debuted]).
Joon also knows his history (as was demonstrated numerous times on Jeopardy!) and his geography. That’s where we get Leon CZOLGOSZ (and give yourself a prize if you put that answer in the grid with anything less than six crossing letters). I’ve seen the name, but sure couldn’t summon it up without a good six to eight crossings. ZANZIBAR is one of the best all-time place names, isn’t it? In 1964, mainland Tanganyika and island Zanzibar merged to create Tanzania (this is the precursor to such names as Bennifer and Brangelina). The southeast corner squeezes in two adjacent answers in the geography-meets-linguistics category, Afghan PASHTO and Mongolian-inclusive ALTAIC.
Oh, wait, I wasn’t done pointing out cool fill. There’s also UNCLE SAM and GOES NUTS up there in the northeast. And AMEN TO THAT near the bottom, too.
Not all the short fill is as tasty as Cheetos. THO, TSU, ESSEN, CALS, STK, GNARS, KTS, and STOAS are like puffed Cheetos sitting out in a chip bowl all day when it’s muggy. They’re soggy and unwanted, but at least they made the snack table look full for the party.
Mike Shenk’s Wall Street Journal Saturday Puzzle, “Labyrinth”
This isn’t as easy a puzzle format as some of the other variety grids Mike makes, but it’s definitely easier than most of the Patrick Berry creations. In a Labyrinth, if you’ve got some letters filled in from the Across answers, you can ballpark-guess roughly where in the Winding list of clues they fall, which makes it a little easier to make headway.
There was only one answer that landed squarely in my “Huh?” zone.[“Life With Father” author (2 wds.)]. Who is CLARENCE DAY? Apparently he wrote an autobiographical 1935 book about growing up in the 1890s, and it was turned into a long-running 1939 play, a 1947 movie, and a ’50s TV series. Everything else was pretty approachable, at least with some of the crossings in place from the intersecting answers.
Barry Silk’s Los Angeles Times crossword
Like the NYT, this one’s a 70-worder so there’s enough wiggle room for lively fill. Overall this grid was pretty smooth, with not quite as much crunch as Joon’s puzzle. The highlights:
- 1a. A WEATHER MAP is a [Nightly news graphic]. Who doesn’t love weather maps?
- 17a. I’m not sure exactly what SMART DRUGS are, but I know the phrase makes for good crossword fill. The clue, [Memory aids], doesn’t explain much.
- 20a. VOODOO is a [Practice with dolls], “practice” being a noun rather than a verb.
- 35a. [Seller of torpedoes and bullets] confused me. I don’t get over to QUIZNO’S as much as the rest of my family. Sure, it’s only 2.5 blocks away, but there are five restaurants that are closer. No, six—plus a coffee shop.
- 40a. UNCLE JED was played by Buddy Ebsen, and he’s our [“The Beverly Hillbillies” sobriquet].
- 65a. TEENY-WEENY can stand alone. It needs no mention of itsy-bitsy, yellow, polka dot, or bikinis.
- 37d. [Haughty, unemotional woman] is no fun. I like to picture a more magisterial cartoon ICE QUEEN
- 12d. [“A woman drove me to drink and I didn’t even have the decency to thank her” speaker] is, of course, W.C. FIELDS.
I don’t care for EX-MATE (2d. [Subject of an awkward meeting, perhaps]). Who says that?
I have never heard the term TERZETTO (14d. [Dvorák piece for two violins and viola]) before. Apparently it means “string trio,” plain and simple. The yucky TER (4d. [Rx instruction]) is essentially a duplication, as the Latin and Italian ter- bits are all about the number 3.
Speaking of duplications, I was mildly put off by the three ITs in “IT IS?,” “I CAN DO IT,” and “NAILED IT!”
Patrick Blindauer’s CrosSynergy/Washington Post crossword, “One to Grow On” – Sam Donaldson’s review
It’s add-a-letter time, as the clues to the theme entries start with the three-letter word ICE and eventually turn into the six-letter word MALICE through the addition of a new starting letter at each step:
- 17-Across: [ICE] is a FREEZER CUBE.
- 29-Across: [LICE] is the term for LITTLE PARASITES.
- 47-Across: [ALICE] was the WONDERLAND GUEST.
- 63-Across: [MALICE] is a shorter term for HATEFULNESS.
If this theme seems IFFY (clued here as [Up in the air], which is where I am as I type this), keep in mind that it’s pretty cool to see symmetrical theme answers that don’t feel forced. I also like the paired eight-letter Down in each corner. The STEELERS are the team that the Seattle Seahawks fan base HISSES AT, so that’s a very apt pairing. I can’t think of a similar connection for MARITIME and PRE-NATAL, but you’re welcome to add one in the comments. NEWFIE, the [Water rescue dog, for short], is pretty cool short fill, and I also liked SNAP AT, PACE CAR, and PHAT, even though the latter is so 2002 (maybe earlier?).
Other random items of note: (1) Just a couple of days ago I wrote of my ongoing struggle with DHOW, so it was nice to see MASTS clued as [A dhow might have three]; (2) [Buzzer at the bar?] is a cute clue for ALE, and one would think just about every cute clue for ALE has been used by now; (3) I so wanted WAX as the [Stuff used for sealing the floor, perhaps] that I almost changed the crossing TERSE to make it work–fortunately I realized that TAR fit just nicely; and (4) my favorite clue was [Postpaid items?] for STAMPS.
Jeffrey Wechsler’s Newsday crossword, “Saturday Stumper”
Well! This walloped me harder than any other regular crossword in the last two or three years. Is it just me, or is it unanimously a killer crossword? I Googled three things I just plain had no way of knowing (and which had tough clues for the crossings, which made it hard to make headway):
- 8d. [Handel opera]. Turns out he wrote about 40 of them. This one is RINALDO. So close to my last name and yet I have never heard of it.
- 10d. [Robinson poem title character]. Had to Google Robinson poem because I had no idea what poet named Robinson there was. Edwin Arlington Robinson, “Richard CORY.” Don’t know the poet, don’t know the poem.
- 36a. [All-American Bowl sponsor]. So many bowls, so many corporate sponsors. Don’t recognize the bowl name at all. Google tells me it’s U.S. ARMY.
Other tough nuts to crack:
- 15a. [Fruity beverages], plural with no S, EAUX DE VIE.
- 17a. [Place to find 15 Across] is hard when you don’t have EAUX DE VIE and you’ve never, ever heard of a WINE STAND. Is that a stand for your bottles of wine, or more like a lemonade stand?
- 29a. [Isn’t a pro] means she’s one of the cons and thus DISSENTS.
- 31a. TATTOO is clued as [Permanent marker]. I would argue the tattoo is a permanent marking, not marker.
- 33a. [Booties], plural of booty, a pirate’s HAULS.
- 38a. [Park of Reunification locale] made me think of Korea and Germany long before Vietnam and HANOI.
- 48a. STALIN was a [1948 Peace Prize nominee]? Hah!
- 51a. [Dam descriptor] is HER. A dam is a female animal. “Which ewe is that lamb’s dam?” “HER.” Meh.
- 62a. [Delegation targets] are ASSIGNEES. What a dull word, packed with letters that make it easier to fill a corner.
- 12d. [South African export] clues PLATINUM. I was hoping for ROOIBOS but that’s only got 7 letters.
- 26d. Can someone explain exactly how DEARER means [Needing extra resources]? The “more beloved” route would have been much easier to get.
- 28a. I was thinking any [’90s Nick at Nite staple] would be something like Cosby or Cheers, but apparently they came later to the channel. Never did watch F-TROOP.
- 34d. Awkwardly phrased clue, no? Does a bang-up job of obscuring the path to the answer. FALLEN TO, as in “It has fallen to me to explain this answer,” is clued as [(Had) become the job of]. Can you think of a sleeker clue?
- 40d. Bleh. SEA LOGS? [They’re often kept in knots]. Didn’t know “sea log” was a thing.
- 44d. MARINE is clued [For waters]. Inscrutable clue until I had a few crossings in place.
If this puzzle didn’t take you two or three times longer than the usual Stumper, my metaphorical hat is off to you.